Monday, 18 April 2016

Monday, 11 April 2016


When I was married we had a plane. Well, a third of one, to be precise. When aircraft hangarage appeared on a statement of essential needs in my divorce case, I remember my lawyer, a well spoken Cantabrigian, using the f word in astonishment.

The plane was kept at a flying club which, like many, was an old WWII RAF airfield, and some of the old boys who flew in that era still used it as their gentleman's club. Blazers, embroidered badges, pale fawn corduroys, or Crimpolene trousers, Viyella shirts - these were their style icons. And their neckwear - tatty maroon and blue ties, signifying their service, or, for the more flamboyant, cravats. The few.

I was chatting with one of my dearest friends (online of course as all chat is these days) and she liked my references to lapwings. As, recently, she has kept me sane, this post is dedicated to her.

But it's about lapwings. The connection with the old boys at the flying club is that I can't see lapwings without thinking of them. There's something about the lapwing on the ground that looks as though it's a stuffed specimen even when it's alive. It has this slightly faded green plumage and a dull eye. It looks like its been packed away in a crate, brought out and had the dust blown off. And it has all of the faded ego of a flying ace. That mad crest! A cravat wearer, for certain. An ex flyer who long ago lost his marbles. An avian gin and tonic drinker. A reminiscence with feathers.

When the birds venture into the air, it's as though they are spitfire pilots who long ago forgot how to fly, or are too pissed to remember. Their pre flight briefing consists of, "remember the glory days? No, of course you don't. Well, just go up and go doolally. That'll do."

So up they go, and blow around in the sky, like fighter pilots flying spitfires made out of wet paper. Kites, out of control. Mad squigglings that turn out, after all, to be birds.

Somehow they survive it, get their undercarriage down, and land like they'd got one wing shot orff. Then into the clubhouse for another G & T, unperturbed.

Lapwings are silliness, in a bird.

But like all of nature, their call is freedom. And so they save us.

In times of turmoil, watch lapwings.

Never mind listening or talking therapy. These birds are of a generation that needed none of that, and, in their continued act of flight, in the face of all evidence of its infeasibility, they represent the unfailing wisdom of just keep carrying on carrying on.

And, just as to those few, those most beloved of friends, never before has so much been owed.

Sunday, 10 April 2016


Suffering schools compassion.


Times change.

Taking eggs from birds' nests is unthinkable now.

But when I was growing up in the 60's and 70's it was commonplace.

Ironically, it was taking birds eggs which lit the fuse for an interest and intimacy with nature, and a concern for living things.

I was never cool when I was a kid, but amongst the boys I mixed with, having an egg collection helped. Mine was a shoebox, lined with cotton wool. I don't suppose it had more than two dozen specimens. But that represented considerable shinning around in hedgerows and up trees to get them, not to mention the acts of reconnaissance involved in spying out where the nests were. This really takes you close to nature, to the habits and subterfuges of birds, to the small details of their homes and hiding places.

I suspect that if you showed different birds eggs to children now, they would have no clue as to what they were, other than eggs. But a recent mention by a friend of The Observer's Book of Birds Eggs brought memories flooding back. The sheeny ovals of pigeon's eggs. The odd spherical shape laid by barn owls, as though to accommodate their own equally odd head shape. The blues and greens of duck and geese species - their eggs very edible, though fearsome protein rushes. The mottled sharp ovals of birds of prey. And, for me, the most beautiful of all, the yellowhammer's. Designed in one of nature's Jackson Pollock moments.

A few of us boys had collections which were of a size where we could talk about them, show them off, create exclusivity around them, even trade specimens with each other. .And, of course, a bit like fishing, there were those which got away - the nests where we were sure we would find a hoard but were unlucky. The nests where there was a single egg - even we had the ethics not to take those, dimly aware that some sort of compassion was needed in this game. The eggs we got which met disaster as we descended a tree or tried to improvise some means of carriage. Those which met with accidental destruction as we tried to blow them. These narratives kept a small group of us in a loose, competitive togetherness. And we enjoyed keeping undesirables out. There was one poor boy - virtually a halfwit - for him we would make up ridiculous bird names, and sell him the commonest hedge sparrow or house sparrow eggs on the pretence that they were from the blue ouzley bird, or some such cruelty. If, as was often the case, he had no money, we would send him to the local shop to steal things for us. Even when his errands were done, we excluded him, just from spite, a horrid wish to persuade ourselves we were superior.

Now, every year, the RSPB, which incidentally has more members than any or all political parties in the UK, tells us that some species or other is under threat. The death row list seems to change every year, to the extent it has me questioning its credibility. Yellowhammers were on it, I seem to remember. Lapwings too. The researchers behind the list clearly hadn't been round here. Lapwings blow like thrown handkerchiefs on every breeze. The hedges are golden with yellowhammers.

But they are safe from one threat at least. I don't take their eggs any more.
 But I have ordered a copy of the Observer book. Just in case.

Saturday, 9 April 2016


Our two biggest cherry trees have burst into flower, as though into song.
Pigeons and wagtails sit in the pink cloud of blossom, disguised.
It's amazing how much pink there is in a woodpigeon's plumage.
You see it against that setting.
Today, standing under one of the trees, I was aware that it was singing.
Honey bees.
Maybe a hundred or more.
Loving those flowers.